2016 was another great year of travel. Any year that I can spend time in Europe is always a good year. At the beginning of the year we had no plans in place but that soon changed. Join me as I belatedly look back on our four months away and the places we visited that make up our sixteen highlights of 2016.
Our 16 Highlights of 2016
Belfast won our hearts! I’m trying to put my finger on what specifically I loved about Belfast but it was a little bit of everything and a good dose of surprise. It’s a fun town, the food is fabulous, the bars buzzing and the sights interesting. Read about our fabulous Taste of Belfast Food Tour with Tour and Taste
The countryside is also magnificent. The drive from Belfast along the Causeway Coastal Route to Torr Head, the Rope Bridge at Carrick-a-Rede and on to the Giant’s Causeway was stunning. We could have easily spent longer in this part of the country.
Our love affair with the Greek Islands continued in 2016.
On Paros we stayed in the fishing village of Naoussa on the northern corner of the island.
By day we explored the island, it’s beaches and villages. By night we joined the party atmosphere in the cobbled streets of the village. The restaurants were fabulous. Fresh seafood thrown on the grill, traditional Greek dishes, gourmet meals using local products….it was all there!
I debated over whether to share this one or not! For us, this tiny Cyclades island was bliss. It’s an island where only a few locals have cars, there’s no quad bikes to hire, and taking the local bus, boat or walking is the only way to get from one end of the island to the other. Not that it’s far. The stroll around the island to Koufonisia’s best beach, Pori Beach, takes just under an hour! You’re rewarded with a stunning bay of white sand and clear blue water overlooked by one of the island’s best restaurants to make sure you don’t miss your daily allowance of greek salad! If you’re looking for glamour, Koufonisia is not for you!
Mykonos has glamour but at the same time there’s something about Mykonos that keeps pulling us back. It’s crowded, it’s busy but it’s great! Join in the fun of the fabulous beach clubs such as Nammos, Skorpios and Jackie O or head to the other side of the island for Kiki’s, a small restaurant under the vines that’s looks over a gorgeous little beach! At night, head to town and watch the sun set at Little Venice.
Naples is a city on the move. The garbage in the street has disappeared, the buildings are being restored and a new metro is being built. There’s still chaos in Naples but that’s what you go to experience. The busy narrow streets of Spaccanapoli, the back streets of the old Spanish Quarter, the elegance of the Vomero….we loved it all
The museums and churches hide incredible treasures and of course there’s the food…..You can’t beat pizza in Naples.
Capri is magical. As day trippers we have always enjoyed the short time we’ve had on the island but until we stayed there, we didn’t realise how special it is. After the last boat leaves and the crowd diminishes, there’s nothing better than to sit in the piazzetta and watch the passing parade. You’ll be kept busy exploring different corners of the island. There’s great walks to take, beach clubs to try and delicious restaurants to eat at. You can also head to Anacapri and take the funicular for knockout views from Mount Solaro then wander through Villa Michele, the 20th century home of the Swedish physician and author Alex Munthe. Of course if you haven’t seen it before, the Blue Grotto is probably calling your name! All in all it’s a fabulous summer holiday.
Always a highlight, it was great to be back in Positano even if it was only a quick visit! We introduced our friends to this wonderful town with visits to Amalfi and Ravello, a day on the water exploring the coast and a delicious lunch at that well known lunch spot in the sun, Da Aldolfo! A week here is ideal but it’s interesting to see how much you can pack into three days if that is all you have!
Rome is a city best walked around in the early morning. Take advantage of no one being around to wander the streets and see the sites uninterrupted! We happened to be back at the Pantheon when the doors opened so wandered inside. It was a completely new experience to enjoy this amazing building with only a handful of people around! The Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps were sparkling too after their recent restorations. Early morning was also the best time to visit St Peters. We had no plans to go inside but with no queues greeting us, we wandered straight in! There were no queues either to take the lift to the roof of the Basilica so up we went. If you haven’t done this, add it to your list of things to do in Rome…The views are magnificent!
We loved exploring the Trastevere area of Rome this trip. It’s got its own character with its small narrow streets, quirky bars and inviting trattorias. Of course, just being in Rome meant we ate our weight in gelato and pasta enjoying every last morsel!
Benvenuto Firenze! Welcome back to Florence! After spending a month in Florence many moons ago pretending to learn Italian, it was great to be back to this wonderful city and revisit old haunts. Small enough to easily walk around in a couple of days but large enough to escape the crowds, Florence is a city that holds many treasures. Once again we had fabulous food not just on our food tours…Eating on the other side of Florence and a progressive dinner crawl through Florence but dinner recommendations we had been given were brilliant. There’s still a few more I’d like to try so you might see us back here next year!
I love Milan! This time we stayed in a completely different part of town to that where we usually stay and were rewarded with a new view of this wonderful city. Milan is not an easy city to get to know for many people but having been there many, many times now we know our way around. Having said that, we also found new sites to visit…. the wonderful Villa Necchi, the Fondazione Prada and the highlight of the trip, Milan’s Sistine Chapel, the frescoed covered San Maurizio al Monasteria Maggiore. Look out for my updated guide to Milan
A gap in our itinerary, an impromptu decision and cheap airfares found us in Prague!
Oh to live in Europe and enjoy this spontaneity regularly!
Prague was every bit as wonderful as we were expecting! What we didn’t expect were the enormous numbers of tourists! Being a spur of the moment decision, we had not done any research but our smartest move was to join Context Travels Introduction to Prague Tour. This gave us the historical background and enable us to learn so much about this fascinating country. The food was surprisingly good too…thanks to Eating Prague’s wonderful food tour.
Portugal had long been on my husband’s list of places he wanted to see so off to Portugal we went! Porto was a great introduction to this fascinating country. The wonderful tiled facades of the buildings, the old warehouse area of the river front, the port houses of Gaia on the other side of the river and the great little wine bars and restaurants introduced to us by André from Taste Porto tours. It was a town easy to discover…. a town easy to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a week of lazy days intermingled with wine tastings, good food and beautiful drives through the valleys, the Douro Valley is the place to come. The autumn leaves were turning so the hills of this incredible wine area were swathed in colours from green to orange and red. What a sight. The Douro valley wines are excellent and it was fun discovering the vineyards and their cellars dotted over the landscape.
Porto was easy to get to know, Lisbon not so easy. I’m not sure why but we didn’t bond straight away. I was just getting to know and understand it as it was time to leave. As a city, it’s very hilly and quite spread out but the more you walk, the more you find!
It’s a great city for food! Culinary Backstreets have a fabulous new food tour, The Song of the Sea, that introduced us to the old port area. The seafood in Lisbon is fabulous. There is such an incredible selection to choose from …..the sweetest prawns, delicious razor clams, spider crabs, octopus and many more. But make sure you leave room for Lisbon’s little morsels of heaven called pastel de nata. The pasta de Belém may be the most famous but I had to keep trying different places just to compare! Since returning home, we’ve been talking more and more about going back. It’s a popular place for a reason and I think we need to explore Lisbon further!
I love being in London when the Christmas lights are starting to go up. It helps make the impending 4pm darkness of winter a lot more cheerful and bearable. London was buzzing this year. The restaurants are getting better and better. I always have a list of places to try and this year was no exception. We loved Lyles, Chiltern Fire House, Barbary and Palomar. Elystan, a new restaurant from an ex Spring chef was great. Padella was fun but you do have to queue! We love the markets and a visit to Borough Market, Maltby St Market and our local Pimlico Market always make us feel like locals.
Paris is always a good idea. Spring, summer, autumn or winter, the city takes on a different feel. Late November gave us yet another look at the city. Christmas was coming….the store windows had groups of excited children standing in front of them, the lights were twinkling and everyone was in a festive mood! We love staying at different areas and this time we chose to stay in one of my favourite areas of Paris, the Marais! With no queues at Saint Chapelle when we passed by, we took the opportunity to pop in and see the wonderful stained glass again! I’d forgotten how breathtaking it is.
Days ran into nights, lunches ran into dinners and all too quickly it was time to head to Charles de Gaulle airport to catch that long flight home!
See you again next year Europe!
Thank you all for your continued support, your comments and likes on Facebook and Instagram as well as here on the blog. I wish you and your family a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.
What travel plans do you have for 2017?
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